If you have served in ministry, whether that is on the pastoral end or the nursery, you may have felt at time like Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” You have felt bogged down through a season, felt a little off every day, or just unseasonable irritable. These are some of the early warning signs of burnout, something that has become a more common occurrence in the church. That is why this little book (123 pgs) by Christopher is so important to the life of the church. In this book Ash begins to lay out for us some warning signs to look for and some ways in which we can be restored and revived in the midst of a hard season of life and ministry.
First, this book is not an academic study into the ins and outs of the physiological nature of burnout, rather it is a personal look at the lives that have been affected by burnout and how they got there. It takes us through the lives of different ministry leaders and works to reveal some of the warning signs that were missed and how they recovered after they stepped back and took stock of what was going on in their lives. Ash’s use of testimonials help to ground us in the reality of what he is talking about, and in some cases you may see your self reflected in them. Like Carrie who was a youth ministry worker who put in almost 14 hours a day in different youth related ministry activities until one day it began to physically break her body down, and she had to step back and look at what she was doing. She loved every aspect of what she was doing; the job was everything she ever wanted and she loved the impact she had on young women, but it took a hidden toll that she hadn’t calculated.[i]
Second, these testimonies are connected directly with practical and biblical advice on serving the Lord without losing your mind. Ash lays out for us 7 key principles that we need to be reminded of as we do lifelong ministry.
- We need sleep, God does not
- We need Sabbath Rest, God does not
- We need friends, God does not
- We need inward renewal, God does not
These opening four keys remind us that we are human and not God and need to stop trying to be God and let him do His work. These are especially helpful as they remind us that in the work of the ministry there will always be more to do, but that in the end it is God who controls the means and way in which the work is to be done and that is through rest and faith in him and growing in fruitful communities that refresh and encourage our walks with God, not our busyness for Him.
The final three Keys force us to look at how we perceive our ministry and what our true goals are.
- We are warned not to seek Glory from man, but only that which comes from God
- An encouragement that the work is worth the sacrifice (not the burnout)
- Rejoice in the grace god has given to you not your giftedness
These three final bullets strike to the heart with what can begin to take root and bury us under our own ideals and pursuits. Sometimes we see our ministry through the giftedness God has given us, or the number of people being affected by our work, we forget that the reason we are sustained in ministry is that if all that were to fall away we would still be God’s children. His concluding focus on our nature as God’s and not our own was a healthy reminder to all of us that through the good and through the bad of ministry we are God’s, our identity in Him is the foundation of how we are to minister and how we are to move through the stress of sacrificial ministry.
Highly recommend this book to anyone struggling through ministry, or who are just starting out and what to run the race well.
[i] Ash, Christopher. Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice. The Good Book Company, 2016. Pg 54-55